What I Learned from 2017

It’s been a rough year, although I realize how blessed I am to have the life I do. I don’t have complaints about what the year has brought. It’s just been hard for many reasons. There have been lots of emotions and new experiences. Some relationships got stronger; others need some TLC. I can’t change anything that happened in 2017 so I have to live with and learn from every decision, choice and action. So, here’s what I learned about life and myself in 2017.

You have to nurture relationships, even the ones you’ve had your entire life. You can take for granted what’s always been there. Every relationship takes work. Relationships do change. I’m further apart from others now than I was 10 years ago, while other old relationships have been renewed and made stronger. Whether you are 10 miles or 1,000 miles apart, you have to put the effort in, or then suddenly people just become somebody you used to know. My list of relationships that matter isn’t very long. I’ve considered myself a failure at relationships most of my life. I attribute most of this to fear, not being uncaring. When you’ve lost a lot, it’s hard to think anyone will stick around. I’m going to try harder to reach out, not retreat, as that’s been my MO for far too long.

20 years is a long time. It’s two decades. It’s long enough to have completely changed or evolved. My mom’s been gone for 20 years. So, I should be all healed up, right? No, the distance between the loss and the present doesn’t matter. Time doesn’t heal all wounds. Everything doesn’t happen for a reason. Really horrible things happen to people all the time. There’s nothing that will ever make it okay. In two decades, I’ve forgotten a lot, and I hate it. I hate that it’s hard for me to remember how she sounded or what her hugs felt like. That’s what 20 years does; it eats away memories and moments you want to hold onto.

We have to move. Not just from our condo but out of this city. I don’t dislike Charlotte. It’s fine. It’s got what most major cities have, but it has never felt like home. And, it never will. I’ve been trying to get to the West coast for over 10 years. I just need a few things to happen, and we can go. I like to wander. I’m not lost. I’ve lived in my current home for over four years. That’s longer than I lived anywhere since leaving the home I grew up in. Yes, it’s time to go. We hope you’ll visit us because we’re going to move somewhere you’d actually want to go.

I really like my husband. I already knew this, but it was confirmed. I say this because it’s important to like your significant other, not just love him/her. He really is my best friend. We can have fun anywhere. He’s so funny and kind. I’m so glad I still like him, and I guess he still likes me, too.

Deserving happiness is different than finding it. I’ve had many people tell me I deserved to be happy. Am I deserving because I’m out there doing good in the world? Do I deserve it because I’ve had a lot of pain? To say I deserve something without knowing if I’ve worked for it seems hollow to me. I don’t deserve happiness any more or less than others. What matters is if I think I deserve it, and if I’ve got the guts to find it. Happiness isn’t at the end of rainbows. It doesn’t happen if you win the lottery. It’s not what comes after you’ve crossed off all your “happy list” items. Happiness is not constant but also not fleeting. I don’t get to choose my happy days, and I also can’t snap my fingers and get happy.

If you’re going to put everything into a brand, it should probably be your own. I’ve worked for years helping other brands grow and telling their stories. I’ve had a lot of success and become a better writer and marketer for it. But I also realized that the harder I work for someone else’s brand has little correlation to being recognized or trusted. I, honestly, don’t know how much more I can do to get a seat at the table. I know I deserve it. So, if others don’t then that’s their loss.

Big brands just don’t get marketing (most of the time). There are exceptions. In my experience, the bigger the brand, the more bloated the ideas. If I could say one thing to CEO, CMOs and all the leaders, stop marketing to yourself. You are not your audience. Your personal preferences should have zip to do with marketing. Instead, look at your data and understand your customer. Until leaders can do this, these brands will continue to lose market share and fans. If you’re not disrupting your industry with logic and creativity then you’re dying.

I should trust my gut more. I’ve been a freelancer for over a decade. I’ve worked with some great people and brands. I had never really had any nightmare clients. Well 2017 changed all that. I had several horrible experiences where I should have listened to my gut. When someone comes on too strong and sounds like an evangelist, this is a red flag. If someone hires you for your expertise then disagrees with whatever you say, then they obviously don’t need you. Don’t keep going back for more. And when someone doesn’t value your time, they don’t value you. I had a call with a prospective client, wherein I had sent her specific questions to facilitate the conversation. When I called her at the agreed upon time, she was out shopping. I asked if it was still a good time, and she said yes. She hadn’t looked at the questions, and I could barely hear her. She wasn’t taking me seriously, and I should have ended the conversation and the relationship then. In 2018, I will not chase any work like this. I’m going with a strict zero tolerance rule on people being flaky, rude, belligerent, arrogant or petty.

I have a great belief in the power of learning and growing. I’m a bit disheartened by the fact that there still is much hate, indifference and ignorance in this world. That means so many aren’t learning or growing. They are devolving instead of evolving. No matter what level you are at in living a “healthy, normal” life, heed this advice. Be bold. Be you. Be hopeful.

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What I Learned from My European Vacation: Part II

What I Learned from My European Vacation Part II

Going to Europe is not a restful vacation. It’s go, go, go and walk, walk, walk. There is so much to see and do in London and Amsterdam. It’s impossible to see it all. We already have our list of what we missed. In this blog, I’ll tell you what we did and what we learned.

London

Tower of London
We were with a tour that was admitted an hour before opening so we had less lines and people to deal with inside. Looking at the jewels and learning their history was very cool. But be sure to visit all the exhibits. There are lots of fun facts relating to the history of the Tower, including all the animals it was once home to.

Changing of the Guard
You kind of have to do this. But it’s not that exciting. Our guide took us from the area where they change in and out onto Buckingham where they parade by. Would have liked to have gone into Buckingham, but it’s only open for tours in July and August. Buckingham doesn’t look that grand on the exterior.

Afternoon Tea
This was a favorite for me. The tea was bliss. The sandwiches and pastries were good not great (remember, I have a super palette). But I loved learning about the history and customs around afternoon tea.

Windsor Castle
I’d love to go back and spend a whole day in Windsor. It’s not far from London. We did not have enough time to see everything. No pictures are allowed inside. Windsor is grand on the inside and out.

Kensington Palace
You walk through a public park, and there it is. You can only visit a small portion, as it is a working palace. This was the home of Princess Diana so there were exhibits focused on her, including many of her well known dresses and gowns.

Stonehenge
It’s just in the middle of a field. There’s even a highway not too far away. What if you saw Stonehenge on your commute every day. I found it fascinating. There was a definite energy there. You could feel it. And the weather changed four times in 20 minutes. It’s much clearer how the stones were moved here (from sometimes hundreds of miles away) then why. It was very evident to me that this place was very special to many people at one time.

Amsterdam

The city is so beautiful. The history and artistry are all around you. It’s hard not to be intoxicated by it. Whatever your preconceived notions might be about Amsterdam, you’re probably wrong. The Red Light District isn’t seedy. We went on the Red Light District tour, and it was very enlightening. Prostitution is a legal profession just like being an accountant. Well, not exactly. But we learned a lot about the history of the sex industry. For starters, to have a window in this area, you’ve got to have money. It’s not cheap. I’m not sure where the cheaper hookers are but not here. Another thing is that you won’t find any men in the windows. Apparently, they aren’t brave enough.

You probably also might be thinking there would be drug addicts or bums filtering the streets. Not that we saw. We saw neither homeless people or addicts walking the street. Our guide informed us that in the early 90s, there was a heroin epidemic in the city. The traditional way of dealing with addicts was to imprison them. The Netherlands decided that wasn’t working. So they actually provide addicts heroin to use in a safe place. Treating it like an addiction; not a crime worked. The number of heroin addicts continues to shrink. Crime related to heroin addiction plummeted. And there are very few addicts under the age of 40, meaning that it’s not attracting new users. It’s a fascinating and smart way to look at drug addiction in my opinion.

There are so many things to do in Amsterdam. We made a bit of a dent in the list, but it will require several more trips to see everything. We loved the Van Gogh Museum. You can spend hours getting lost in his brush strokes and story. The canal cruises are a beautiful way to see the city. We took one in the day and at night. On one cruise, we saw the newer part of Amsterdam with its modern skyscrapers. I had no interest in seeing this part of the city. I much prefer the gorgeous and aged row houses.

We also toured the Amsterdam Museum, which provides you a great overview of the city from its beginnings as a port to its growth to international destination. The Royal Palace was open while we were there so we took a few hours to check it out. It was built in the 1600s as a city hall. Now it’s a residence for the Dutch monarchy and is open for touring depending on the schedule.

And yes, Amsterdam has coffeehouses and live sex shows. But it should never be defined as a city of hedonism. The Dutch aren’t conservative or prudish about what many cultures consider taboo. Rather they allow individuals to make their own choices about participating in such activities. They’ve removed the mystique around things that many cultures cannot. When things but come less risqué they lose their appeal to many. In my opinion, I believe they get it right.

Our time in Europe will be a time I always cherish. It’s just amazing and breathtaking to be around such history and beauty. We can’t wait to go back. We left parts of our heart their so we’d know we’d return as soon as possible.

What I Learned from My European Vacation – Part One

 

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This is the first in a series of posts about my recent trip to London and Amsterdam. I’ve been obsessed with Europe since I was young. My mom planted this desire in me. I think her trip to Europe in the 80s was probably one of the best times in her life. So I thought of her a lot while I was visiting castles and famous places in London as she had 30 years ago. Traveling with her is just one more thing we didn’t get to share. But I was glad to be there with my favorite person.

For this post, I wanted to talk about logistics and my observations of how Europe just gets it right.

Trains, Planes, Boats and No Automobiles

We were never in a car the entire trip. There’s no need for a car in Europe. Transportation in Europe is really about getting where you need to go quickly and efficiently. In the US, transportation is intertwined with identity. Having a car is not just about getting where you need to go, it’s a symbol of your independence. I, personally, loathe driving and care very little about a car. So Europe is perfect for me.

We took the Underground everywhere in London. Our hotel was a block from a stop. London is a big city and very spread out. It would be impossible to go everywhere on foot. Although we did walk so much and for so long. Even with comfy shoes on, my feet were on fire.

In Amsterdam, we took the bus and trams. Amsterdam doesn’t really have that many cars. It has bikes. This is truly a bike friendly city. Everyone has their lane: pedestrians, bikes, tram and cars. You have to pay attention and stay in your lane. We didn’t see any accidents nor did we see helmets. Justin wondered how safe biking is in Amsterdam so we looked it up. The stats we found stated six to eight people die from head injuries in biking accidents annually. That’s a very small percentage. My take on why there are so few crashes is that respecting bikers and pedestrians is a cultural philosophy. Riders, drivers and walkers understand their responsibilities to each other. Whereas in the US, most drivers don’t have any desire to share the road or yield. They’ll happily run you over, honk at you and flip you off. Such an uncivilized place is the highway.

The Underground was not hard to figure out. The only tricky thing is that some trains go the same path but then split. So make sure to take the right one if your stop is after the split. The trams in Amsterdam were a bit trickier. The basically run in circles parallel to the canals, but it’s not so easy to understand what the stop is. They make announcements but they aren’t always about the next stop. And the trams stop a lot for traffic not just at actual stops. I ended up just standing beside the window where I could physically see the stop name so we didn’t miss our stop.

Getting from London to Amsterdam

We looked at several ways to travel, including by water. I chose a flight because it was quick and reasonably priced. We chose British Airways, as they don’t charge for the first bag. Plus, we were able to fly out of and back into Heathrow, which is where we departed from to get back home. We are lucky to live in a hub city with direct flights to many European cities. That’s what I always say when people ask me what I like about Charlotte. “It’s got a great airport.”

Interestingly, when checking in with American Airlines on our fight back, Justin and I were questioned about our trip. Separately, due the fact we have different surnames. I was asked what we did on our trip, how we would get home and how long we’d been gone. Justin was asked where he works, how he travels to work and where we stayed. But this has become part of the routine in the world we live in so I expect it. We had no issues at immigration or customs throughout the journey.

About the Stairs

Be prepared for stairs. At our hotel in London, we were on the fourth floor. No elevator just for flights of steep stairs. These were “feel the thigh burn” after one set kind of stairs. I only needed to go back up them about a 1,000 times and I’d have some fierce legs. We were on the first floor in Amsterdam so we lucked out.

Being Short is Not a Bad Thing

Europeans make good use of space. Think IKEA. The rooms are small. We upgraded to the double bed. We survived the small quarters. It’s easier to sleep in a smaller bed without three animals. Doorways are small. The subway is compact. So for all my tall friends, you’re going to have to crouch and dunk a lot. Shorties, this is when you’ll be glad to be petite. They make great use of their space.

English – the Universal Language?

English is, of course, the language of the U.K. They do add a u to many words in which the US does not. They also use an s rather than a z. In the Netherlands, you’ll find everything in English (UK not US) as well as Dutch. I feel conflicted about how most any country offers everything in English. It speaks volumes about the US expects everyone to conform to its language (although the US is still own its own with the imperial system). I wish I could speak lots of languages. I took four semesters of German in college and have little to show for it. Dutch is similar to German so I could read some things. But it’s hard to speak. It’s a language with long words difficult sounds. I appreciate Amsterdam catering to its visitors from English speaking countries and in turn apologetic for our ignorance in not knowing multiple languages.

I’ll end by saying I never felt not safe in Europe. We saw a much stronger police and military presence in London. But I was never fearful in any way. Since our return, the U.K. has experienced two tragic terror attacks. It’s hard to know what I can do in these times. I don’t have any solutions to thwart terrorism. I can only say that I love Europe and its people. I’d go back tomorrow and stay if that were an option. These attacks won’t scare me away. There are many more adventures to take! Next up – Italy.

What I Learned from 2016

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Well, 2016, you sure did not disappoint. It’s been up and down all the way through. And in the end, whether if just by a thread, I’m still here, and I’ve learned a few things along the way.

The year started with a break up; I left I job I loved for many reasons yet it was clear I needed to move on. What I hated leaving were mostly the people. These great people made a lasting impression on me. I learned a lot about myself through the eyes of these people and took some lessons from them as well. It’s a pretty amazing thing when you have the pleasure of being around fascinating people that make you want to just be better.

Since then my professional life has been on the rise. I got back to who I am and what I want to do. I relaunched this blog, which has been such a joy for me. To write about life and share my stories makes me happy. And I am motivated even more to keep telling more stories because of the response I’ve received. I’ve also been able to meet and work with many interesting and intelligent people on marketing strategies. My “day job” is a bit of a bore, but I’ve met many exceptional people.

Of course what took precedence most of the year was the remodel. I spent months with no floor, a few weeks with no kitchen and a few moments when I may have considered going to a hotel alone! And then finally, things came together. I won’t congratulate us just yet. We still have one more ceiling to scrape and two bathrooms, which means we’ll have to share a bathroom for a time.  Good luck to us.

While things have been mostly positive and joyful, the world itself has continued to be challenging. It’s nothing new. Conflict arises over the same things over and over – religion, race, power, money and anything that seems “different.” Have we learned nothing from history, have we really devolved? I’m not an expert on the human condition; I am however an observant storyteller. I’ve seen real anger and fear in the faces of many. Yet I’ve also seen beautiful signs of humanity. One afternoon on the way home, I saw a dog with no leash or human. It’s a busy road. He was definitely someone’s pup based on his good condition. I went to pull over and three other cars did as well. A lady jumped out and scooped him up as he was about to walk into the road. I needed to see that, it gave me hope.

I lost a lot of hope in this culture during the election. It showed a lot of the worst in people. I don’t believe that some people are all bad or good. I think people are all shades of gray, light and dark pieces in us all. But l learned something very important the morning after the election. I was on the train, earlier than normal. Two middle aged men were standing behind me on their way to offices in skyscrapers. They were complaining about lack of sleep because “They waited so long to call it.” Then one says to the other, “At least there’s not a woman in the White House.”

I don’t believe the race was lost because of gender. I’ve tried hard to dissect how and why things happened as they did. I get that things certainly aren’t as our founding fathers imagined. But I do know that when they wrote, all men are created equal, they meant white men like themselves. Everyone else has had to keep fighting for that equal. Those words I heard that morning helped me understand that I need to keep trying to be a strong voice and force for women in any way I can regardless of who is in office. I’m not burying my head in the sand. I’m going to stay as educated and informed as possible. Someone has to.

The year ended with a simple wedding, joining two people who are more concerned with a dazzling marriage. Marriage, and the wonderful man I now call husband, have taught me so much already. No matter what 2017 has in store, we will weather it together. This is perhaps the best lesson of 2016 – it’s the special moments and time with those we love that matter – everything else is just noise. I’m all for more joy and less noise in 2017. I’ll do my part; hope you will, too.

 

What I Learned from Cats

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From the What I Learned Series

This is a companion piece to What I Learned from Dogs. As anyone knows dogs and cats are different. Each deserves their own story. Dogs usually crave attention and want to please; cats do what they want. I love both cats and dogs. I’d never choose a favorite, but I’d say I’m much more cat like.

The first pet that was really mine was my Kitka. She appeared one day in my yard. She was a little lady with a calico face and white feet. I didn’t know that I needed her, but she was so lovely; I couldn’t resist. This was the summer after my mom and brother’s deaths. I was feeling very alone in the world. And this little creature had a way of making me feel less lonely.

Not to say that Kitka was a sweetheart. She had an attitude. She was fearless. Most cats scurry when someone new comes along. Not Kitka. She wanted to know who you were and if possible to rummage through your handbag.

As a Maine Coon, she was a big girl. All her fur made her look bigger. More than once, I heard comments on her size. With a lot of fur, she needed to be brushed. She was not fond of this. It wasn’t unusual to return with a bloody finger. Once her fur got so matted, it required she be shaved. She was not a happy girl. Luckily, the fur grew back quickly.

Her Maine Coon traits also made her love water. She loved to sit in or drink from the sink. She was very social and chatty. And always up to something. After a move, I was home unpacking. She was nowhere to be found. I was calling her, offering treats. I was a wreck thinking she had gotten outside. I slumped down to the floor, tired and worried. And she just sauntered in and brushed up against me.

Kitka was an only kitty for a while. Eventually she had some siblings. She was, however, always the boss. The companionship and joy Kitka gave me are things I will never forget. She even welcomed Honey into our family.

Kitka taught me that not everything or everyone fit a stereotype. She wasn’t a typical cat. Her personality made her unique. Kitka also showed me the unconditional love that animals can give. She was in tune with my feelings and always glad to be by my side.

Losing her was beyond difficult. She got sick, and it happened quickly. I still think about her all the time and what a blessing she was.

My current cat Ellie is a tiny smoke gray sweetie. She isn’t as fearless as her sister, but she is certainly sweeter. Ellie never tries to bite or scratch. Well, there have been a few scratches in attempts to move her or place her in a cat carrier. Her chattiness is unrivaled. She expects her can food in the morning and has no notion of weekends or sleeping in.

The dogs don’t leave her alone all the time. She gladly pops them in the face with her little q-tip paw. Then they look at me, and I just say, “You’re in her personal space.” She is very graceful, hopping around on her cat tree or leaping onto shelves, which are not cat friendly. If there was ever a runway walker, it would be my Ellie.

Ellie has taught me about patience and kindness. She had been through a lot before she came to live with me. I rescued her when she was about a year old. I tend to try to adopt older animals, as everyone wants puppies and kittens. She was tiny but mighty. Her chirps and instant liking of me let me know she was the one.

Since then Ellie has been a loyal and loving cat. But I almost lost her. I was in Austin for the weekend. Justin was home, working on our first kitchen renovation. There was a lot of sanding. He left a window cracked. The next morning, there were little paw prints in the dust leading out the window. Justin and I had been together for less than a year, and to say I was upset is an understatement. Apparently, I may have said some things that weren’t nice. I really only remember using the word disappointed. I arrived home that afternoon.  It was rainy and cold. We searched the neighborhood and put up signs. We didn’t find her that day or the next. On Tuesday, we found her, outside on the back porch. She was cold but unscathed. Haven’t seen her try to make a run for it since.

But I learned a lot from that experience. Even though it was stressful and scary, I learned that Ellie would never really leave me. It’s hard to find anyone in the world who won’t leave you. It also taught me that even though I’ll never have human children, I am a mom. All the worry and fear I had in that moment was just as real as if I’d lost a child in a store.

All my cats have been unique and brought a lot of happiness into my life. Happiness was once hard to come by for me. Animals so many times made the difference. Even when the world has been inhospitable and screamed no at every turn, I have always been able to come home to a gentle purr and a fluffy friend.

What I Learned from Getting Old

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From the What I Learned Series

I don’t really think I’m old. Except when everything hurts for no apparent reason or I realize I go to bed now at the time I used to arrive at the bar. We are a culture obsessed with youth. We will do anything to retain taut skin and banish fine lines. But it’s not just our appearance. Being young is a state of mind: it’s about being active, decoding technology and using the current lingo and diction of the kids.

In many ways I’m holding on fiercely to my youth. I’ve been able to dismiss any signs of crow’s feet, not only due to my healthy skin regime but also slightly because of my resting bitch face. I’m pretty tech savvy and for the most part, I’m active. But I refuse to adopt the vernacular of youth. I don’t use the terms fleek, bae or YOLO. Not going to happen!

Yet I do “feel” old sometimes. It seems not that long ago that I was 16 and desperately wanted to be older. Well here I am, “older” and with age of course comes maturity and wisdom. Sometimes it also comes with regret. Regret for all the things you didn’t do when you had the chance. Even though my responsibilities as an adult don’t include children, there are still a lot of reasons I can’t just go do what I want: dogs, work, lack of funds, etc. The one great thing is I’m well aware of all the things left on my list to do. I may have less time to do them, although we have no guarantees no matter our age. So regret is not something that bothers me or nags at me. I accept that I’m no longer young but to me that doesn’t mean my options are any less.

So I wanted to write this list of reasons why I think I’m old and probably unhip (exhibit one – using the word unhip). I don’t think of this as a negative. Sometimes it’s better to be old and unhip.

1.    I don’t wear heels every day. For most of my 20s and early 30s, I wore heels every day. I was actually known for wearing inappropriate shoes. I love heels. They still make up the majority of my shoes. But I just can’t do it anymore. My feet hurt. I have to walk a lot. I usually wear sneakers or flip flops to work then change to my pumps. I opt for my cowboy boots over stilettos. My feet thank me for it.

2.    It’s very rare now that I seek out a fashion trend. Trends are typically meant for teens and 20-somethings. Trends are not likely to be universally flattering. They aren’t usually going to be pieces you can keep in a wardrobe over time. If I do try a trend then I don’t spend much on it. My taste is classic with a modern twist. At this point, I know what looks good on my body type so I gravitate toward that. It doesn’t mean I don’t love the look, I just know it won’t be a good fit for me.

3.    Social media is actually not really my thing. I spend a lot of time on social media, but the majority of this time is for professional reasons. It’s important for me to understand social media and how it impacts marketing. I need to know how to optimize the social media presence of brands I work for and my own brand. I use it a lot to promote my blog. But personally, I’d rather spend time with people in person. I’m glad it’s allowed me to reconnect with people and keep up with them, especially if we live far apart. But I’m fine to go days without checking it. It’s not an impulse for me. I could appreciate it more if it was a place of mutual respect and sharing of perspectives. These days it just seems like a negative, trolling environment. I don’t want to be part of that.

4.    My idea of a night out has changed dramatically. Social scenes were often awkward for me. Not really in high school, but college was hard. But I pushed myself to want to be part of the party. All through college and right after, I went out most every night: bars, clubs, house parties, whatever. From what I recall, I think I enjoyed it most of the time. After my divorce, I went through a party girl renaissance and lived it up in downtown Charlotte. I don’t know how much fun I had the second time around. But going out was just part of my life for many years. Now, I can’t imagine going to the club. We still go to bars or to see live music. My club days have long passed. Besides we have a rule, we won’t go anywhere that we could possibly run into Justin’s kids. What an embarrassment that would be. A great night out to me now is dinner with friends, possibly some live music or a nice walk. As long as home by 10.

5.    I don’t look forward or back as much as I did in my youth. In my youth, I was always waiting for something to happen or change so that my life could really start and I’d be happy. Or I’d look back at every little thing and wonder why I’d made such a mistake. Even though I had been through more than most at a young age, I still spend so much time second guessing everything. I still wonder what the heck I’m doing most of the time. I haven’t figured anything out completely. I just try really hard to stay in the present. Nothing needs to happen so I can be “happy.” I am some days; some days I’m not. I still look back but in a different way. Now I want to remember things as they were instead of trying to re-envision history. Time allows us lots of perspective. And that’s usually a good thing.

Youth is fleeting. We only get it for a little while, which is probably a good thing. When youth slips away, it leaves experience. Experience comes with a price; it will be written in wrinkles on our face but also in lessons on our hearts.

What I Learned from Loss

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From the What I Learned Series

People like to say, “Everything happens for a reason.” I understand why they say it. It’s meant as a comfort. It reaffirms we can’t always control what happens to us. Because we can’t control it! Sometimes I can see the truth in those words; other times not so much.

Maybe everything doesn’t happen for a reason. Maybe an alternative way to digest the things that happen is that really bad things happen to really good people every day; it’s what happens next that matters. What will you do with your loss?

You can learn from loss and adversity; after all it builds character (another one of those helpful things people say). For better or worse, loss has shaped me. It has woven its way into my DNA.  Did it change me? Yes. Did it destroy me? No.

Even though I’ve probably had more than my fair share of loss, I understand that loss is relative to one’s own experience. But in the end no matter how great or how small your loss may be, you have two choices: bloom out from it or succumb to it. Yes, there is a choice. It may not seem like it most days. But you did get a choice.  You can’t change it. You do, however, get a chance to decide what happens next.

Loss never leaves you. My mom died almost 20 years ago. I’ve now lived more of my life without her and most of the rest of my immediate family. So in these 20 long years, time should have done a lot of healing (yet another helpful adage). Time is something that keeps firmly marching ahead, moving you further away from those losses. Yet I’m not sure if time heals because  it feels like it just happened most days. So for me, my loss is still part of my thoughts, my skin, my breath. I’m just not ever going to get over the loss of my mom. I used to think I needed to “get over it,” whatever that means. I thought I was dragging my loss and heartache around like some badge of honor. Believing in order for the person and their loss to mean something, it had to be held onto.

Yet when you carry it around, you don’t forget. And maybe it’s good not to forget. I make a conscious effort to not forget my mom’s face, voice or smell. I see her picture every day so that’s the easiest. Her smell I can mimic with her favorite perfume. The voice is the hardest. I’m losing it. I try to imagine in my head the words she said to me so often. I want to recall without effort just how she said my name or the way she laughed.

So maybe time doesn’t heal. But I like to keep the conversation alive. I want to still talk about those I’ve lost. That’s not true for everyone. Sometimes I think it’s easier for some to just forget who they lost ever existed. That’s what people do to survive. That’s just not how I chose to handle loss.

Loss will trick you; trick you into thinking you’re alone and that life will never be good again or normal. It will trick you into blaming yourself. I spent a lot of time feeling guilty just for being alive. It also tricks you into thinking it’s best to not get attached because you know what it’s like to lose. Nothing penetrated my heart for a long time. It just made me lose more: time, relationships, opportunities.

Loss made me angry. Angry at the situation, the lost person, myself. It was intense in the beginning; it still lingers. The anger flares up the most during the important times in life because I can’t share it with those gone. They have missed my triumphs and failures. Everybody has that longing to be number one to somebody and to have someone always on your side.  That was my mom for me. When I lost her and a million times since, I was mad that I’d never be that important to anyone ever again.

I’ve felt anger at myself as well. Either because I couldn’t move forward or was moving too fast. Should I be enjoying life? When was it okay to be happy again? Survivor’s guilt is real. I’ve asked myself many times, why am I still here?

Grief doesn’t have a timetable. I’m not sure if it ever really ends. You don’t wake up one day and are cured from your loss. I’ve learned it doesn’t have to disappear. Loss created a big hole in my heart. It can’t be filled.  I know I’ve tried. I don’t feel the need to close the hole anymore. It’s a part of me. It’s influenced my choices, sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad.  Grief, in a way, is like the personification of the bond you had with that person.

But I won’t wallow in loss. The world is full of grievers. Tragic things happen all the time. Loss still wraps its arms around you, but if you let it be your focus, you will lose so much more. It’s just one part of me. Not my first or last thought every day; just somewhere in between. In my loss, I eventually found a better person. I never gave up on and will never give up on trying every day to be better.

Loss cannot be undone. Sooner or later, it will visit us all. I’m not unique. What I do want to do is share my story. To tell everyone that life rarely turns out as expected, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be great.